Raskin Around

“Chopped,” the Food Network cooking show, is looking for Charleston area contestants.

Thanksgiving has traditionally been a time for talented cooks to shine, and that may be especially true this year in Charleston as the holiday coincides with the deadline for “Chopped” applications.

Professional chefs and talented amateurs interested in competing on the Food Network show are being invited to submit resumes and photos in advance of the production team’s upcoming trip to Charleston.

Although Thanksgiving 2013 is the official cut-off date for applications, sharp chefs will want to enter their materials sooner, since in-person interviews will be scheduled for the third week of November.

“Chopped” is also conducting searches in New York, Portland and Seattle. The one-day show — competitors aren’t required to take leaves from their jobs or briefly abandon their families — is slated to film in New York this spring. The top prize is $10,000.

While cooks of all kinds are eligible for consideration, the show’s casting director says she’s looking for former military cooks, teenagers and amateur cooks for themed episodes.

The online application is at choppedcasting.com.

I once had the chance to quiz a server who worked Alaskan cruises about the various food preferences of the boat’s international clientele. The common denominator, he said, was Caesar salad.

“Everyone likes Caesar salad,” he said.

Jason Colon, a Le Cordon Bleu alum readying to open a restaurant on Daniel Island, would know: His resume includes “assisting in the opening” of an Italian chain with locations in China, Korea and Japan, and a sous chef stint at an Italian restaurant in Hawaii.

Unfortunately, there’s no indication Colon plans to serve the “Italian-Chinese fusion” dishes he perfected on Oahu at Ristorante LIDI, scheduled to open later this fall. A release describes the restaurant at 901 Island Park Drive as specializing in “authentic, affordable Italian cuisine from regional Italian traditions.”

“What we want to develop at LIDI (is) a place where families can enjoy good, simple food together,” Colon is quoted as saying.

The menu will include chicken marsala, shrimp scampi, pasta Bolognese and spaghetti with meatballs.

“I see the island becoming a food destination,” Colon says.

In addition to the two dozen local chefs already announced as participants in the four-course Charleston No Kid Hungry Dinner, the evening’s line-up also includes “Top Chef” vet Mike Isabella.

Isabella, chef-owner of three Washington, D.C., restaurants, will prepare hors d’oeuvres for VIP guests.

The Nov. 3 dinner at L’Atelier de Le Creuset benefits Share Our Strength’s campaign to end childhood hunger.

Tickets are $125, but you have to shell out $200 if you want to taste Isabella’s apps. The VIP reception starts at 5 p.m. Reservations can be made by calling 808-7859.

The Produce Marketing Association’s annual Fresh Summit was held this year in New Orleans, one of just seven U.S. cities capable of hosting the massive trade show.

This is a big deal in the agricultural world because it unites growers, shippers, distributors, retailers and nearly every other industry positioned to profit from the sale of apples, green peppers and pears.

But for regular eaters, the event is fascinating because it offers a glimpse of trends about to overtake the produce departments of their local grocery stores.

Having pounded the floor of the New Orleans Convention Center the weekend before last, I’d advise bracing for the following six healthy food fads:

1. Little is big

If the fruits and vegetables displayed at the show are any indication, plenty of strategy meetings over the past few years ended with produce growers demanding their research teams find ways to make their output smaller. Sunkist touted “kid-sized citrus,” Windset Farms pushed cocktail-sized cucumbers and fingerling potatoes were everywhere.

Apparently, preying on the average consumer’s fruit ignorance, apple growers even bagged normal-sized apples and labeled them as snack-friendly. But my favorite example of the trend came courtesy of Shanley Farms, which introduced single-serving avocados packed in an egg carton.

2. Bit and pieces

Throughout most of American cooking history, butchers have sliced up specific cuts of meat. But vegetable buyers who wanted just this part or that part were out of luck: If you needed the white of a leek, your only choice was to purchase the whole onion.

Starting this year, though, Melissa’s is selling leeks without their slender green leaves, and microgreen specialist Kerry’s Kitchen Gardens is selling excellent radish tops without radishes attached.

3. Drink up

Although none of them appeared to make much of a splash with summit-goers, new plant-based drinks angling for a share of the coconut water market included maple water, derived from tree sap. And for coconut water fans who feel the liquid’s too removed from its tropical roots, there’s now a convenience package housing a tiny coconut (see trend number one, above) and a straw.

4. The dark side of convenience

Kale’s reign shows no sign of ending: Familiar salad mixes have been remade with the dark, leafy green. And Green Giant’s hawking pre-shredded Brussels sprouts in bags.

5. One word: Plastics

When pitching products that date back eons, the right packaging can make a huge difference. Although there were a few new fruit and vegetable varieties available for tasting — among the new apples is an Autumn Glory, which is supposed to have undertones of cinnamon — many more exhibitors emphasized novel packaging strategies.

Interestingly, while many locavores have long bemoaned the difficulty of discerning the provenance of a pork chop when it’s plopped atop Styrofoam and cellophane-wrapped, their beloved vegetables are now becoming increasingly removed from their natural states.

Plums are dried, diced and packed in canisters sized for coffee-cup holders; brightly colored baby carrots and grape tomatoes are presented in segmented, Lunchable-like containers. For the genuinely lazy, there are foil-wrapped sweet potatoes ready for grilling.

6. Added flavors

Latin American and Asian distributors eagerly offered up samples of fruits still unknown to most Americans, such as rambutans, but it appears folks still prefer to come by their flavor sensations chemically.

The show included lots of examples of produce made to recall something else, such as the apple chips coated with chili-lime seasoning. Yet the category standout was surely the baby carrots treated to taste as though they’ve been dipped in ranch dressing.

Two months after bringing her baking operation to a James Island cafe, Tina Kinney is getting her name on the door.

In August, Kinney shifted her 3-year-old cookie, muffin and pie enterprise to How Art Thou Cafe, using the kitchen to fulfill catering and restaurant orders. Now, in addition to carrying her baked goods, How Art Thou has created a stand-alone space for Kinney’s Mudd Pie Girl Bakery.

“It’s a collaboration between the two places,” publicist Heather Richie says. “They are adding her name and hours to the front door.”

Richie adds Kinney is now taking holiday orders for peanut butter pies and pumpkin pies; she also sells scones and tarts.

To celebrate the new collaboration, Kinney is offering free samples at 10 a.m. Nov. 8. To learn more, go to muddpiegirlbakery.com.